Finding and evaluating information are two of the main steps in doing research. Of course, finding the information is one thing, but how can you determine if it is good information? Everyone will have a different opinion on what is considered good information. The best way to evaluate information is to make a list of questions and check each source against them. Here are some ways you can evaluate information.
Who is your audience?
Always know who you are doing the research for. You may think that there is no need to evaluate information if the information is simply for personal use. This may be fine in your case, but how can you tell if the information is really valid? If the information you are researching is for educational purposes, you want to make sure you have all your “P’s” and “Q’s” covered. Here are 3 steps to help you evaluate different information genres:
1.Books — The introduction or the preface of a book will always have some reference to what the specialty or genre is. If they don’t, try going on the internet and researching the book on other sites to see if there are consumer reviews of the book.
2.Articles — Check to see if the article is scholarly or just popular opinion. Usually articles are judged by their content or the reputation of the publisher.
3.Web sites — This is where you are the judge. Of course knowing the difference between different URLs can help you with this. Most everyone knows that .edu web sites are for education institutions and the information found will indicate several other sources. Just be sure that the information you are finding is for your target audience and check for other web sites referencing this information.
This is particularly important when it comes to the internet. “Authority indicates whether or not an individual, an organization, or an agency is recognized as an expert in a field and if that body is knowledgeable, qualified, and reliable.” The proper authority indicates whether or not you are gaining the right information.
Find out who wrote the information and why they wrote it. It is always important to look for credentials and who the publisher of the information is. A book will be pretty straight-forward about who the author is and they will provide you with a brief biography of the author and perhaps list other books published.
Scholarly articles will always list the author. Now finding out why they wrote it can be a hard question to answer. Some articles will list information in the preface or in the first paragraph, while others may not indicate a reason for writing it at all. A scholarly article should list the contact information for the author and you can ask them directly via e-mail or telephone.
The single most important reason you have for evaluating information is biased opinions.
So what does bias mean exactly? When you are looking for information, you want to find opinions that are balanced so you can see “both sides of the picture” so to speak. Some works are clearly biased and others may lean more to one opinion that another. If you are reading an objective book or article, check it to see if it does acknowledge different viewpoints. Just because the information is biased doesn’t necessarily mean it is invalid or wrong. You will need to research the other opinion if you expect to keep this as a source.
The main reason you should evaluate information is to obtain credibility. Just like working toward a college degree, you need to obtain the most up-to-date and useful information if you expect to succeed.